Gourmet get-away to Yarra Valley
50 minutes by car from Melbourne’s CBD is the YarraValley, where Kathy Paterson finds serendipity.
Who would have thought I would return home from a trip to Victoria that included a two night stay in Healesville in the Yarra Valley, to hear my aunt on Newstalk ZB discussing her grandmother, Riverina Marsom Pulsford Heales, a great niece of Richard Heales, Premier of Victoria in the early 1800s and the man after whom the township of Healesville, is named.
Serendipity at its best! Healesville (pronounced heels-ville) reminds me of a cross between Cambridge in the Waikato and Greytown in the Wairarapa. The main street is lined with deciduous trees, quaint shops and smack bang in the middle is the Healesville Hotel, with its old world charm. The hotel is a great place to stay if you want to just wander upstairs to bed after the night out. The accommodation is clean and comfortable, but this is a shared bathroom experience, so pack your dressing gown.
Further north along the Maroondah Highway (a gently winding road through stunning lush fern gullies and towering forest) is the Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm where I sat with the owner, Mitch Macre, and heard his humbling story of Black Saturday (the 2009 bush fires). Mitch lost 40 tonnes of fish, part of the hatchery and some sheds, in the fires but thankfully managed to save his family by dousing and saturating the surrounds of the house where they were holed up waiting for the wind to change direction. After this devastation, Mitch and his family dug deep and have now nearly completed restoration of the farm. With a rod and bait and Mitch at my side, we set off to one of the ponds so I could cast off and catch my own trout.
When my beginner’s luck wore thin he took me to what is known as the suicide pond, and it wasn’t long before I had a trout on the end of my rod. Back at the farm shop the staff gut and clean your catch, then you can cook it on one of the barbecues set up in the new open-sided shed filled with picnic tables. Mitch and his team also smoke the fish in a woodfired smoker using mountain ashwood, which burns quickly without leaving coals — perfect for smoking. Mitch’s wife turns smoked trout into a delicious pate, which is available for sale at the farm shop.
Rillettes are usually made with slow-cooked pork that has been shredded and mixed with fat to give you a rustic paste for spreading on to bread. I have made one using salmon, inspired by Buxton’s salmon pate.
Makes about 2 cups
200g piece fresh salmon, boned
50g butter, softened
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
2 Tbsp snipped chives or 1 Tbsp finely chopped fennel fronds
150g smoked salmon fillet, broken into small flakes
¼ tsp smoked paprika
- Steam salmon until just cooked, about 5 minutes if you are steaming a piece from the tail end. Set aside and leave to cool.
- Using a fork, mash together the butter and oil until really smooth. You don’t want any lumps of butter. Stir in the lemon juice, mixing well. Add the chives and smoked salmon.
- Remove skin from steamed salmon and flake flesh, then fold through with smoked paprika. Season and place in 1 large ramekin (or 2 small ones), cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to allow flavours to mingle and develop.
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Set in one of Melbourne’s iconic but forgotten estates, along with its to-be-done-up art deco mansion, Burnham Beeches in the Sherbrooke Forest is home to the Burnham Bakery and Piggery Cafe, set in the property’s restored stables and piggery. The cafe is warm and rustic with plenty of communal tables outside. Entering, you can’t help but be awestruck by the wall of bread and the counter cabinets with pastries at one end and a selection of ever changing salads to the other.
The menu is small but the ingredients are carefully sourced to fit the owners’ mantra — “food is not just fuel but a way of living that fuels happiness and contentment — live to eat, not eat to live”. All ingredients are sustainable and ethically caught or harvested. I enjoyed a charcuterie plate with pork terrine, homemade pickles and a boiled egg with a Yarra Valley Rob Hall Chardonnay. From the char-grill barbecue there is wagyu beef, barramundi and vege burgers, as well as their charcoal chicken and Merguez sausages served in a brioche roll with crispy onions and pickles. These dishes are all served on interestingly shaped wooden boards or metal plates. If you have more of an appetite the “what’s hot” menu offers entrees and mains.
Burnham Beeches offers lawn bowls, croquet and bocce pitches or, if you just feel like doing nothing, lie back on the over-stuffed sacks that are positioned around these activities. There are 500 inoculated oak trees in the truffiere, a large organic vegetable garden and an emu enclosure. They hope to use the emu eggs in the cafe. Pet pigs, Bubble and Squeak, oversee the lot from their pen and paddock beside the large car park. This is my take on the cafe’s Flinders Island lamb korma pie with split peas. I am serving mine with red lentils on the side. It is also good served with steamed cauliflower tossed in a little olive oil with toasted cumin seeds and chopped fresh mint.
Lamb korma pies with red lentils
Makes 4 individual pies
For the red lentils
200g red lentils, well washed
¼ tsp turmeric powder
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
Dried chilli flakes, to taste
- Place lentils and turmeric in a saucepan and pour over 2¾ cups water. Bring up to the boil, cover then lower the heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes until soft. Season with salt.
- Meanwhile, pour oil into a small frying pan and place over a low heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until the onion is golden. Add chilli flakes and cook for a further 1 minute. Add onion mixture to cooked lentils and mix well.
For the lamb korma
3 Tbsp olive oil
5cm piece cinnamon stick
8 cardamom pods, seeds removed, lightly crushed
2 bay leaves
3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, crushed
900g-1kg diced lamb
½ cup almond milk
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Cornflour paste to thicken
¼ cup cream
1 cup very small florets cauliflower, blanched
- Heat the oven to 170C. Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into a small frying pan and place over a medium heat. Place in cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds and bay leaves. Stir for a few seconds, then add the ginger and garlic, stir well then remove from heat and set aside.
- Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large casserole dish suitable for stove-top-to-oven. When hot, brown the lamb on both sides, in batches. Add spice mixture to casserole dish.
- Pour in almond milk with the cayenne pepper and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Pour in 1¾ cups cold water. Bring up to a simmer, stir well, cover and place in the oven. Cook for 2½ hours until the meat is tender.
- Remove from the oven and thicken sauce with a paste of 1 tablespoon cornflour and 1 tablespoon cold water.
- Add the cream and cook until the sauce is thick. Remove bay leaves and set aside to cool. Stir through blanched cauliflower florets.
For the pie
4 x deep (1 large cup capacity) pie dishes
400g thawed puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt (egg wash)
- Increase oven temperature to 200C. Roll out pastry on a lightly-floured bench top to about 5mm in thickness. Using your pie dish as your guide, cut a circle slightly larger than the dish, then cut a strip of pastry to fit around the edge of the dish. Brush pastry strip with egg wash. Repeat with remaining pie dishes.
- Divide cooled mixture between pie dishes and place on pastry lid. Trim away any excess pastry and press with your thumb to seal. Using a sharp knife “knock up” edges of pastry. Make a slit in the top to allow steam to escape. Brush pastry top with egg wash.
- Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes well browned and filling is bubbling hot.
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To the dairy
Yarra Valley Dairy is home to handmade farmhouse cheeses, specialising in both cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses. Their retail shop sits in the original 100-year-old milking shed next to the cheese factory. Here you can taste any of the cheeses they make and my pick would be their Bulls Eye, a semi-hard mature cow’s milk cheese with a nutty, earthy taste and superb texture. Perfect for a fondue, or to grate on to French onion soup or add to a herb omelette. From their fresh, soft style cheeses I loved the marinated fresh goat’s milk cheese, flavoured with cardamom pods, golden shallots, fresh coriander and black pepper, great stuffed into large beefy mushrooms. The shop also sells a plethora of artisan pickles and jams, literally anything with a cow or goat on it, even cowhide handbags.
Is the sun over the yardarm?
The Oakridge Winery building is an architectural masterpiece set among grapevines and boasting sweeping views across the valley. I enjoyed a wine tasting at their cellar door, but with too many great wines to name, have picked out an Oakridge semillon, a wine exclusive to sales at their cellar door and restaurant. The grapes are grown on the adjacent vineyard, once a seed farm growing brussels sprouts. The five short rows are hand-picked, whole-bunch-pressed to old French oak casks for fermentation and maturation on lees, a wine term meaning “to increase the complexity and enhance the structure of the finished wine". Oakridge Winery is a destination in itself. Their dining room filled within half an hour of opening for lunch. Here my sweet tooth was satisfied with their original take on classic desserts and cakes. Oakridge Eton Mess was not really a “mess” but a plate of beautifully crafted earl grey meringues, cacao nib brownie, cardamom custard and blackberry granita, the “Carrot Cake” a goat’s cheese panna cotta, candied walnuts and baby carrots served in all forms and textures.
Oakridge Winery also sets itself apart by holding fun, creative events such as: The Farmer needs a Knife (no, not wife, although that may be the case in some instances), where farmers meet with their consumers to showcase and chat about their products over a meal; and Feast of the Beast roast dinner, a midwinter feast roasted over open fires.
Where to stay
There are many very good bed and breakfast establishments in the valley. The owners of the Healesville Hotel also own Furmston House. This modern and stylish private house with studio is set on the hill behind the hotel, so benefits from a lack of street noise. The Dairy & Harvest House are two farmhouses on 20 acres just outside Healesville. They boost a cook’s kitchen and kitchen garden filled with herbs and greens. If you are looking for something more “top end’’, I suggest you stay at Chateau Yering Historic House. Eleonore’s at Chateau Yering is a fine dining restaurant named after Eleonore de Castella, a hostess renowned for serving the most refined food and quality wines.
A big thank you to Margaret Ryding, my Yarra Valley expert guide, driver and all round fun person to be around — even for the dressing gown I didn’t bring with me!